THE need for a clear and coherent vision to breathe fresh life into St Helens town centre has been underlined by news that two more town centre stores will close.
Closure notices on the front of Burtons confirmed the axe will fall on the menswear store and its upstairs Dorothy Perkins ladieswear, which occupies a prominent town centre location at the corner of Church Street and Bridge Street.
The Star’s online report of the imminent axing of the stores – June 14 is the date advertised – led to dismay among readers concerned by the apparent deterioration of the town centre.
Earlier this year WH Smith became the latest national chain to leave, leaving a yawning gap on the high street.
Much of the ire of town centre visitors is directed at St Helens Council, though senior figures at the local authority are the pains to stress they cannot influence the rental rates set by private landlords.
The continuing growth in internet shopping, the trend of big chains to leave high streets in favour of retail parks and competition from major regional shopping destinations are all credible excuses for why St Helens and other town centres face problems.
However, Star readers often point to neighbouring Warrington, as an example of retail success.
It is understood the council accepts that as key decision-makers, with responsibility for regeneration, a fresh vision, drawing on the thoughts of independent retail sector is needed swiftly.
Council leader Barrie Grunewald, pictured, has pledged £1million to help the town centre and to set up a task force to lead a review. Some meat will be put on the bones of those plans in the coming weeks.
Meanwhile, Church Square is hopeful of enticing a “well known store” from a number who are interested to fill the voids that will appear when Burtons and Dorothy Perkins stores close later this month.
A spokesman for Church Square Shopping Centre, which is landlord for the soon-to-be empty units, said: “ “We have been informed by the store's (Burtons) parent company, Arcadia, that it has decided not to renew the lease, which ends in July.
"This is not a reflection of the situation at Church Square and we are aware that Arcadia is not renewing a number of its shop leases around the country.
"We are working hard to find new tenants for these premises."
Burtons and Dorothy Perkins will point customers to stores on the Ravenhead Retail Park from the middle of next month.